A Unified Korea – The Finland of Northeast Asia

16 02 2018

PyeongchangRadio Sputnik International (Pivot to Asia 15.02.2018) An amazing thing is happening in Korea. The North and the South are experiencing a thaw in relations and a visit by the President of South Korea to North Korea is on the cards. This thaw has huge geopolitical implications.

Dr. Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra discusses the situation with host John Harrison.

The West has perhaps been caught off guard by what is happening right now in Korea. The North and South of country are on the verge of opening up diplomatic negotiations despite the will of the USA. When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proposed resuming talks with South Korea in his New Year’s Day address, Seoul seemed to leap at the opportunity. Dr. Petrov explains that President of South Korea Moon Jae-in was elected with a promise that he would improve relations with the North, and that has not yet happened. Now it is possible, after a 10-year freeze that another era of ‘sunshine policy’ will once again lead to improved relations. “Before then, there were zones of cooperation, charter flights between the two countries; tourists could drive their own cars into North Korea to visit their loved ones who they hadn’t seen for decades after the Korean War.” Koreans, whether they live in the South or the North, Dr. Petrov says, are, in general, interested in improving relations between the two countries. But unification would bring its own difficulties. “Young and old will all tell you that unification of the country is their dream. But it depends what the next question is going to be. Are you going to introduce a unification tax, are you going to give your job to brothers and sisters in North Korea, who would agree to be paid half of your salary? So they might say — let’s have unification sometime in the future, not now. South Koreans view North Korea as a territory which needs to be liberated and emancipated.”

One could perhaps compare the possible unification of the two Koreas with the unification of East and West Germany, but that, Dr. Petrov said would not be a very good comparison because the wage levels of North Koreans are proportionally far lower than those of the East Germans before the Berlin wall came down. The South Koreans are extremely well educated now and competitive in commercial and industrial know-how and skills, this is clearly very different from the situation in North Korea. “North and South can talk about unification but only after a joint process of collaboration and education. That’s why President Moon Jae-in’s thesis is firstly one of reconciliation, second, economic integration and only then unification. The nuclearization, well that’s something that makes the whole story very complex because North Korea is not preparing to denuclearize.”

The Americans see their presence in South Korea as having provided stability in the area, surely they are not going to take been shouldered out lying down?, John Harrison asks. To that, Dr. Petrov answers that the whole idea of American presence in South Korea is based on anti-communist sentiment. “It is very ideological and political; this is in essence, a Cold war mentality which brings together American and Seoul right wing politicians. …For them, it is important to stand together because China and Russia are just next door, and the Americans want to be present. South Korea provides the opportunity for American troops to be stationed in the South Pacific….An American withdrawal would undermine the whole thesis of an American-Korean brotherhood in arms built on anti-communism.”

Since coming to power, President Trump has questioned Seoul’s contributions towards the alliance, opened renegotiations of the long-fought US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and threatened direct military action against the North for which the South would bear the bulk of the risk. Dr. Petrov says that South Korea is the power that will benefit from Trump’s inconsistences in foreign policy. “South Korea will gain access to raw materials and minerals which North Korea is now selling to China….South Korea will be much stronger. This is why Japan is so paranoid about reconciliation as well. Everybody is against the idea of reconciliation but one country, and that is Russia. Russia is very keep to sell its raw materials and expertise to the unified Korea….Right now, North Korea is a black hole in a quickly growing region. For Russia, it makes much more sense to support the unification project because that will open the doors to export opportunities in South Korea, and the Russian Far East is hugely under developed and under populated….I think it is a win-win-win situation for Moscow, Pyongyang and Seoul to see the reconciliation process restarted, maybe at the expense of the South Korean-American alliance. The Americans don’t want to see a unified Korea right next door to Vladivostok, the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet. China is also paranoid about potential US military bases on its borders. So, for Russia and China, it is important to see Korea as a kind of Finland of East Asia. A country which is nonaligned but prosperous, which is peaceful but vigilant, and is an economic powerhouse.”

There is a possibility that the current thaw between the two Koreas might actually lead to an increased likelihood of war because the US may feel that it needs to safeguard its alliance whilst it can. Dr. Petrov explains that this is unlikely because of the close proximity of large centers of population spread between the two countries. “What President Trump was talking about last year, about fire and fury, about a nuclear armada all turned out to be just empty talk, he didn’t send a nuclear armada to the shores of North Korea because the coastline of North Korea is not far away from the Russian coastline, and the Russian Pacific fleet. I don’t think the United States is going to jeopardize its own naval and air assets and the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens who live work and study in South Korea because if war starts there, there is going to massive loss of human life, huge nuclear contamination of the whole region and economic disaster for everyone involved. South Korea would not tolerate any reckless action, President Moon Jae-in made it very clear to President Trump that there will be no war without his consent, that there will be no war against North Korea without the specific permission of the South Korean government, and the South Korea government is not suicidal…”

Listen to the full podcast of this interview here.

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‘The Pentagon is dreading the potential of an inter-Korean reconciliation’

31 01 2018

Radio Sputnik(26 January 2018) North Korea has called on all Koreans at home and abroad to make a breakthrough for unification without the involvement of foreign countries. The message was announced by Pyongyang’s state media and came after the government met with political parties. Earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signaled his willingness to mend relations with his southern neighbor ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Radio Sputnik discussed this issue with Dr Leonid Petrov, North Korea expert and visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

Listen to this interview or download the broadcast here…





North Korea: Can South Korea’s Decapitation Unit take out Kim Jong-un?

4 10 2017

Silmido(ABC Radio’s Tell Me Straight’s Yasmin Parry and Will Ockenden, 30 Septemebr 2017) Imagine a squad of thousands of military soldiers flying helicopters and planes through the night towards North Korea with one job — to assassinate the leader, Kim Jong-un.

It sounds like the plot of a film, or a Twitter threat from US President Donald Trump, but it’s a legitimate South Korean defence strategy.

This month, the South Korean Defence Minister, Song Young-moo, announced a special forces squad, called the Decapitation Unit, would be reformed by the end of the year.

Reformed? Yep, this is the second iteration of a Kill Kim assassination squad.

A motley band of misfits were trained back in the 1970s to take out Mr Kim’s grandfather, but why try again when last time everything went horrifically wrong?

Miscreant hit squad

In 1971, the first Decapitation Unit was formed with the intention of marching north to slit the throat of Kim Il-sung, the then North Korean leader.

Like the plot of the Suicide Squad comic book series, the group was made up of former criminals and thugs plucked from the streets of Seoul.

The government gave them an irresistible offer — the promise of a new life and a clean slate if they completed their mission.

According to Leonid Petrov, a Korea expert from the Australian National University, the special unit was isolated for years on an island called Silmido.

The squad of misfits trained in gruelling conditions, some dying along the way.

But when the time grew close for them to complete their task, the South Korean government called the whole thing off.

“The whole mission was aborted because, well, they’re not professionals,” Dr Petrov said.

“They were still criminals, and they had no idea what’s going on in North Korea so they were doomed to failure.”

The government realised there was no way men from the South could infiltrate the North undetected.

“They already speak completely different dialects, they don’t understand each other, they don’t travel, they don’t visit each other,” Dr Petrov said.

“At that time the satellites wouldn’t provide them with maps and Google Earth didn’t exist at that time.

“They would immediately be identified, arrested, and potentially used in the counter-propaganda war against South Korea.”

Weapons who knew too much

But in their years of training, the men had become trained assassins, and the South Korean rulers feared they would turn rogue.

Dr Petrov said the South Korean guards on the island began slaughtering the agents one after another.

“They were shot and eliminated because they knew too much,” Dr Petrov said.

But when the South Korean guerrillas realised their fate, they rebelled.

The men turned on their guards and sailed a boat back to mainland South Korea.

They landed on the peninsula, hijacked a bus and drove towards the capital, but at one of the road blocks they were annihilated.

For many years, South Koreans knew nothing of the assassination plans and the ensuing chaos, which was severely embarrassing for the then South Korean dictatorship.

It was not until South Korea’s democratisation in the 1990s, and the release of the 2003 film Silmido, that people become widely aware of the story.

“Nobody knew that the South Koreans were doing exactly the same thing that North Koreans would do,” Dr Petrov said.

“But they’re Koreans — they’re brothers and sisters — they live in the constant fear of the resumption of the hostilities and it’s a slow motion civil war.”

Getting the gang back together

Despite everything that went wrong with the Decapitation Unit in the 1970s, the South Korean Government now plans to recreate it.

The South Korean Defence Minister said 2,000 to 4,000 soldiers would be assembled by year’s end and the military was already “retooling” helicopters and transport planes to penetrate North Korean airspace at night.

It sounds like a daring plan, but Dr Petrov said it was nothing but propaganda.

“Everyone in South Korea understands that the South Koreans cannot do much or anything successful in terms of deposing or dethroning the regime of Kim Jong-un, simply because they don’t know how it works. It’s a black box,” he said.

“When South Korean parliamentarians were asked why on Earth they decided to come up with this plan, which didn’t work before, they simply said it was the intention to scare the North Korean regime, because North Koreans have nuclear weapons that South Koreans don’t.”

One of the ways South Korea can respond is with a propaganda campaign, setting up a Decapitation Unit so the North Korean leadership would have to live in constant fear.

Assassination doomed to fail

According to Dr Petrov, there are numerous reasons a hit on Mr Kim by the South Koreans would be impossible.

“It is a fantasy, it’s science fiction. Mission impossible,” he said.

He said the first problem was very few people knew where the North Korean leader was at any given moment.

“Kim Jong-un lives like his father and his grandfather — underground in numerous palaces which are linked by underground tunnel highways.

“He periodically pops up on launching pads to oversee the rockets, have a photo session, meet with peasants and workers and then disappear again,” Dr Petrov said.

Second, the North Korean regime is a “perfect dictatorship”, with many layers of defence.

“The system in North Korea is designed to protect the leadership in such a way that even their own security apparatus people don’t know where the leader is,” Dr Petrov said.

“When they drive the car with high-ranking leaders, there’s a system of block posts that stop the car and change the driver, so that every driver doesn’t know where the journey is going to stop.”

The third reason is the South Korean army is unprepared to take on such a task.

“The South Korean army counts 675,000 people, of which most are conscripts, which means they’re mama’s boys, university students who are not prepared to sacrifice their life for some ideological conflict which has been going on in Korea for decades,” Dr Petrov said.

Special units do exist and are well trained, but it is unlikely they would be effective on enemy territory given they know little about the security infrastructure underground, he said.

“Maybe a dozen of highly trained spies can cross the border, can infiltrate, but again it will be some comical situations when they wouldn’t know the reality of North Korean life. They will be immediately identified, embarrassed,” Dr Petrov said.

“They’re like aliens visiting the Earth. Hello Earthlings!”

With an attempt on Mr Kim’s life unlikely, the leader’s lifestyle is likely to kill him first, Dr Petrov said.

“Kim Jong-un is more likely to die of an overdose of expensive Cognac or cheese or obesity or high blood pressure, but not from a South Korean bullet,” he said.

You can listed to the original ABC Radio podcast of this interview here…





How the Hell does North Korea Manage to Earn Foreign Exchange?

19 04 2017

Kaesong Industrial Park - workers(Charis Chang, 2017.04.18, www.news.com.au) From the outside North Korea looks like an impoverished state cut off from the rest of the world. But during its weekend procession, the isolated regime managed to put on an impressive display of its rockets and military strength, in defiance of growing American warnings about its military capability.

While many have the impression of North Korea being a poor country that can’t feed its own people, Leonid Petrov told news.com.au that it had large stockpiles of natural resources that it used to fund its weapons research.

“North Korea is a mountainous country that has huge natural resources including deposits of high quality coal, gold, silver, uranium, iron ore and rare earth metals,” said Dr Petrov, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University College of Asia and the Pacific.

He said North Korea had exported its minerals to allies such as China and the Soviet Union for decades until the collapse of the communist bloc. Since then it had been more proactive in international trade, although the tightening of sanctions has seen its export ability curtailed recently.

Dr Petrov said China in particular had maintained trade in North Korea and was keen to keep a monopoly on its rare earth metal trade.
“So China buys everything North Korea is prepared to offer (of its rare earth metals),” he said. These metals are important because they are used the production of many 21st century products like mobile phones, computers, LCD screens and cars.

Another way that North Korea earns its money is by exporting its workers to China, Russia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South East Asia. In fact there were no visa requirements between North Korea and Malaysia until early this year, when tens of thousands of North Korean workers were deported following the assassination of North Korean president Kim Jong-un’s older brother Kim Jong-nam.

“Tens of thousands of North Koreans are sent overseas to work in restaurants, construction sites, as vegetable growers and builders of monuments in places like Africa,” Dr Petrov said.

“Dictatorships like big projects and North Korea can offer them labour to build big monuments, highways and airports.” Dr Petrov said the “lion’s share” of the worker’s wages went to the North Korean government.

North Korea also welcomes foreign investment. The Egyptians have invested in the country’s telecommunications network, concrete factories and construction industries, while the Chinese are keen on fishery resources, the mining industry and have developed a network of supermarkets selling Chinese-made consumerables.

Previously North Korea also benefited from co-operation with South Korea, which invested hundreds of millions into the Mt Kumgang resort where South Koreans and foreign visitors could stay and go mountain climbing. The Kaesong Industrial Park, which produced goods using South Korean know-how and North Korean labour, also gave it a financial boost until it was shut down last year following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test.

Dr Petrov said until last year China was also providing North Korea with other resources it needed such as crude oil and petroleum at “friendly prices” or possibly even for free.
It’s this type of trade that the Trump administration and the Australian government wants to block.

“They’re keen to see China stifling North Korea to death and causing the economic collapse of North Korea’s economy, which is unrealistic,” Dr Petrov said.

He said China sacrificed more than 250,000 soldiers during the Korean War to support the North Korean government. “It’s wishful thinking that China would just turn the tap off and allow the North Korean regime to implode.

“China understands that this would cause chaos in North Korea, the absorption of North Korea into South Korea and the subsequent advance of American troops to the Chinese border.

“So China is not going to allow the economic collapse of North Korea.” Dr Petrov said China was more likely to demonstrate its anger through ceasing economic co-operation temporarily, such as when it suspended the importation of coal after the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. “It bites but is not deadly,” he said.

But Dr Petrov said these types of actions were probably not going to be effective in curbing North Korea’s ambitions as it could always turn to Russia to help. “If China ceases economic co-operation, then Russia steps in and will continue doing the same,” he said.

“North Korea knows that well and plays off Russia against China, allowing Moscow and Beijing to compete for concessions on North Korea’s mining industry, fisheries and port facilities.” Russia is interested in North Korea because it sees it as a good market for Russian gas, oil and electricity. Russia believes North Korea could also potentially open the corridor for the export of energy to South Korea.

It sees North Korea as part of a potential transport corridor stretching from South Korea to Europe, via Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. “Russia is not interested in the collapse of North Korea but the stability and co-operation with North Korea,” Dr Petrov said.

Even other countries have had a hard time enforcing sanctions against North Korea.
A United Nations expert team released a report last month that found North Korea had managed to avoid sanctions by using Chinese front companies and other foreign entities to disguise where its goods were coming from. Last year it managed to continue its export of banned minerals and also has access to international banking.

Part of the problem is how different countries interpret what is banned by the sanctions.
One example was highlighted after Austrian ski equipment was found at the luxury Masik ski resort in North Korea. Austria later said it didn’t think ski lifts were included in the European Union’s definition of luxury goods prohibited from being sold to North Korea.

An Australian brand of ski clothing was even manufactured at the Taedonggang Clothing Factory in Pyongsong from 2014, but the company said it was not aware of the problem until after production had been completed and shipped to retail customers. It took two years for the company to sever its production line.

When asked how the conflict with North Korea could be resolved, Dr Petrov said: “Stop the war, end the conflict, reconcile and co-operate”. Dr Petrov believes that North Korea had a chance for survival if it could resume co-operation with South Korea, and this could happen if South Korea changed leadership at its May 9 presidential election.

He said co-operation did happen during the 10 years of the Sunshine policy that encouraged interaction and economic assistance between the two countries from 1998 to 2008, but the US actions were very important.
He said North Korea initially froze its nuclear program according to an agreement made when Bill Clinton was president but his successor George Bush scrapped this, which forced North Korea to resume its program.

See the full article here… 





Korean Peninsula Looks More Divided than Ever

21 03 2016

Kaesong Industrial Park closing(AFP, Daily Mail, 12 February 2016) North and South Korea’s perennially volatile relations seem headed for a new and potentially dangerous low, with all official lines of communication cut off and a host of tension-raising issues on the near horizon.

The two rivals, who have remained technically at war over the past six decades, have faced and weathered numerous crises in the past, but the current situation feels particularly grim in the wake of the North’s recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

Any hope of compromise or dialogue seems to have been indefinitely shelved, with a leader in Pyongyang confirming an unwavering commitment to nuclear weapons development, and a counterpart in Seoul determined to react firmly — and proactively — to any North Korean provocation.

And the standoff is taking on wider Cold War-like dimensions, with the divisions between the main parties to the North Korean nuclear issue — China and Russia on one side, the US, South Korea and Japan on the other — increasingly stark and antagonistic.

The new mood on the divided peninsula played out this week in the effective termination of the sole remaining North-South cooperation project — the Kaesong joint industrial zone lying 10 kilometres (six miles) over the border in North Korea.

– A talisman for ties –

Despite its obvious vulnerabilities, Kaesong had taken on a talismanic image by riding out pretty much every inter-Korean crisis thrown up since it opened for business in 2004.

“In a way, it’s a miracle it lasted that long,” said Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the Australian National University.

But on Wednesday, Seoul announced it was suspending all operations of the 124 South Korean companies in Kaesong, and yesterday Pyongyang responded by expelling all the firms’ managers and freezing their factories’ assets.

The North placed the complex under military control, while the South cut off all power and water supplies.

“I don’t see any way back for Kaesong now,” Petrov said. “It’s gone too far and there’s no real will in the North or South to work it out.”

Kaesong was born out of the “sunshine” reconciliation policy of the late 1990s.

One of the roles initially envisaged by Seoul was of Kaesong as a beachhead for market reforms in North Korea that would spread from the complex and expose tens of thousands to the outside world’s way of doing business.

Although that vision never materialised, some analysts still mourned its demise for closing a small but crucial open door on the world’s most heavily-militarised border.

– ‘Great leap backwards’ –

“With no Kaesong, South and North Koreans will no longer be in contact anywhere on a regular basis. That is a great leap backwards,” Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert based in Britain, wrote for the NK News website.

Chang Yong-Seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said one of Kaesong’s most important contributions had been to help keep inter-Korean rivalries in check.

“The Koreas both had a stake in Kaesong so they were able to restrain each other in some ways, but now that has all gone out the window,” Chang said.

The space for communication between Seoul and Pyongyang shrank further on Thursday, when the North announced it was cutting the last two remaining communication hotlines with the South.

The hotlines themselves have never been used for conversational diplomacy, but they were key to setting up meetings where such discussions could take place.

The severing of all contacts comes ahead of a period when crisis-control talks could be most needed.

– Tensions ahead –

North Korea will likely react strongly to whatever sanctions the UN Security Council eventually agrees to impose over its nuclear test and rocket launch.

Then in March, South Korean and the United States will kick off a series of annual military drills that the North views as rehearsals for invasion and which always see a spike in tensions.

Pyongyang’s claims of provocation over the exercises should be especially shrill this time, as Seoul and Washington also begin talks on deploying an advanced US missile shield in South Korea.

“South Korea and the US have said the drills will be on an even larger scale than usual which is sure to meet a big backlash from North Korea,” said Chang.

“So, with all this, I think we’re going to see tensions running at a level incomparable to previous years,” he added.





Two Koreas to continue high-level talks on Friday

14 02 2014

Panmunjom(NKnews.org 13 February 2014) North and South Korea will return to high-level talks on Friday to continue discussions on the subject of inter-Korean family reunions and looming U.S. and South Korean joint military drills.

Friday’s meeting follows lengthy inter-Korean negotiations held at Pyongyang’s request on Wednesday that failed to result in any tangible agreement between the two sides.

At Wednesday’s talks North Korea communicated to South Korea that forthcoming Foal Eagle and Key Resolve military drills should be cancelled or postponed, so at they do not overlap planned family reunions between February 20 to 25.

But on Thursday South Korea rejected the request, with South Korea’s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae telling parliament: “As far as we’re concerned, it’s impossible.”

While Reuters reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that North Korea should not link forthcoming military drills with the issue of family reunions, one North Korea expert Leonid Petrov told NK News he was not optimistic about progress at Friday’s talks.

“If the South Koreans wanted to reopen Geumgangsan Mt. Resort they would have done so long time ago. The North Koreans know that and deliberately insist that family reunions should take place there. The timing for proposed family reunions is also ominous, given the joint ROK-US military drills in the area are scheduled precisely on the same day.”

Kerry also said on Thursday that the military exercises with South Korea later this month will be the same as those conducted in previous years.





North Korea to return six detained South Korean citizens

24 10 2013

dmz-from-north-korea_1(BY CHAD O’CARROLL , NK News, OCTOBER 24, 2013) North Korea announced on Thursday that six South Koreans who had been detained for illegally entering North Korean territory would be soon be released via the DMZ Panmunjom truce village.

“The North sent an official notice that the six will be returned at the neutral truce village of Panmunjom Friday afternoon,” an anonymous Minister of Unification official was quoted as saying Thursday by South Korea’s Yonhap News.

Mysteriously, the unification ministry source said that four of the six detainees had been previously mentioned by North Korean state media in February 2010, suggesting that at least part of the group may have been in North Korea for several years.

“A relevant institution of the DPRK recently detained four south Koreans who illegally entered it. They are now under investigation by the institution,” a short Korea Central News Agency bulletin said on February 26, 2010.

[…]

One expert told NK News that the news could be Pyongyang’s way of indicating a desire to warm inter-Korean relations, which despite improving in summer have been cooling of late.

“North Korea’s decision to release 6 detained South Koreans is another test for ROK President Park Geun-Hye’s “trustpolitik”. Now it will be up to Seoul whether to reciprocate, using this initiative as opportunity for reopening dialogue, trade and reconciliation” Leonid Petrov, a researcher at Australia National University, told NK News.

“49 North Korean spies have been caught in South Korea in the last decade, 4 of them just this year. Park Geun-Hye could pardon and deport them to the North as a symbolic sign of trust-building aimed at improving inter-Korean relations,” Petrov added, also pointing out that, “South Korea claims that about 500 of ROK citizens – most of them fishermen – are being held by North Korea: If Kim Jong-Un is serious about mending bridges with the South, he should let those people go or, at least, permit communication with them.”

South Korea’s National Security Law makes it illegal for South Korean nationals to make unauthorized contact with North Korea or enter North Korean territory. Normally, North Korean law also forbids South Koreans from entering DPRK territory.

In July 2012 68 year old South Korean national Ro Su-hui was arrested after walking from North to South Korea at Panmunjom. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment for illegally entering North Korea and ”benefiting the enemy”.

See the full text of this article here...